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photo by Hossein Alipour/Refe

Here, Have My Journalism Skills Cheat Sheet

Aysha Khan
Apr 28, 2015 · 4 min read

I’ve been noting tried-and-true techniques for news-gathering, multi-platform storytelling, writing and editing for several months now in a Google Doc, but here they are for your benefit as well. They’re pretty basic, overall, but that’s the point. Leave recommendations — I’ll update periodically.


Finding sources using Twitter: Daniel Victor. Adding words like “me,” “my,” and “on” to your keyword-based Twitter search filter results down to personal experiences. (Another tool lets you track down the first instance of a phrase, hashtag or link on Twitter.)

Finding stories on Reddit: Melody Kramer. Find trending stories using a subreddit search engine, or hunt for story ideas and sources in hyperlocal subreddits.

Interviewing better: Poynter. Craft open-ended questions, let them speak and establish ground rules. Record your interviews, cringe as you listen back, and learn from your mistakes. (Something I’ve learned: always end by asking, “What should have I asked?” or “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” Be sure to ask for other potential sources.)

Overcoming shyness: Poynter. Three highlights for me: use your job as armor, borrow mentors’ interviewing techniques and pick up the damn phone before you chicken out and send an email instead.

Interviewing sources via email: Poynter. Explain just enough of your story to entice them. Offer to make it a phone interview. Stress your deadline. You should read the whole piece for valuable guidance on how long to wait for a response, asking for clarifications and more.

Finding story ideas: As mentioned above, Reddit is helpful to find stories bubbling up. If you have access to NewsWhip, that’s also a goldmine for finding stories that will be sure to trend. Any other tips? Leave a comment.

Researching online: Take full advantage of Google’s advanced search tools. Notably, use filetype: pdf to find PDF documents and inurl:gov to find official databases. (It gets better, so study up.) Use to find vanished urls.

Multi-platform storytelling

Deciding your medium: Lam Vo. This flowchart takes you through your options: video, timelines, social media, photo galleries, graphics and more.

Shooting video: Lam Vo & Andrew Lih. The five key sequences you need to produce a strong piece: close hands, close face, wide shot, over the shoulder and an alternative angle. Shoot in 10-second clips without moving your camera. (Don’t try any fancy tricks — panning is for pros.)

Conducting video interviews: Lam Vo & Andrew Lih. From dealing with mics to tripod setup to framing to getting good bites. Pretty thorough from a technical aspect, but Poynter has more on the mental process.

Editing video: Baron Abas. A few videos demonstrating basic video editing in Final Cut Pro X. Most tools are the same with any software.

Filming video on mobile: BBC Journalism. Get as close to the action as possible. Realize you may not need commentary on top of natural sound, especially since many viewers won’t have headphones. Shorter is better — so maybe ditch the standup.

Making charts: Lam Vo. There’s a lot more to data visualization than just pretty styling. Triple check that your numbers are accurate, understandable and sourced properly. Don’t make a chart for the sake of having a chart.

Choosing between charts and maps: Kyle Walker. When determining the best way to represent geographical data, ask: Is there a clear geographic pattern I want to highlight in my data? Do I have enough data to highlight it effectively?

Writing & Editing

Crafting headlines & ledes: How would you describe the event to a friend? Also skip the weed puns for marijuana legalization stories and “unveiling” when writing about Islam and the Middle East.

Avoid news cliches: Abe Rosenberg. Hit command-F before you turn your draft in and search for these phrases in your copy. Sometimes they’re not worth the effort to rewrite around, but it’s good practice. (Do the same for useless phrases like “there is” and passive voice: search for “by” and words ending in “-ed.”)

Choosing quotes: Good quotes add variety and life to a story. Only quote when you can’t do a better job of saying it by paraphrasing.

Fact-checking & Verification

Fact-checking stories: Politifact. Google may catch it for you, or your source may provide strong evidence. If not, check other fact checkers’ work (Snopes, Politifact, etc.), books, databases and human sources. You might also be interested in Crap Detection Resources.

Verifying photos online: API. A simple reverse-image search through Google might settle the matter. But you can also use weather reports and geographic landmarks to place a photo, or look at the image’s EXIF data.

Thanks for reading. Leave me a suggestion here or tweet me @ayshabkhan. Read more about journalism + innovation here.

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